Study Guide: A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah: Book Summary

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One morning immediately after the boys pass a deserted village, they hear the roar of engines or like roll after roll of thunder. They carefully crawl forward through the brush to check it out and surprisingly discover that itís the Atlantic Ocean. Ishmael thinks that even in the midst of madness there remains true and natural beauty. They suddenly become like the boys they really are again: chasing and wrestling each other, playing somersault, and running games. The even make a soccer ball out Alhajiís old shirt and kicked goal after goal. They see a cluster of huts up the beach and walk towards it with none of their usual qualms. It looks deserted which confuses the boys until suddenly, a group of fishermen jumps up and overpowers them. They are taken to the chief, but the only punishment they receive is the loss of their sandals. Then, they are sent on their way. They donít realize how horrible a punishment this is until they begin to walk on the hot sand. There is nowhere else to go and the sand begins to burn their feet horribly. It is like walking on a hot tar road.

They walk this way until sunset until they come upon a deserted hut. They are in terrible pain, but so dehydrated that they canít produce tears with their cries. As they are sitting there, a man enters the hut and is about to turn around, when he sees the condition of their feet. He stops them from brushing the sand from the soles and then goes to out again. He returns with some type of grass that he heats and places under their feet. The steam created by it lessens their pain. He leaves once more, returning with food and shows them where the sleeping mats are. He is a fisherman and is off to ply his trade. He also leaves them ointment, which he says they must put their feet before sleeping.

The boys are unable to walk with more than a hobble so they spend their time teasing each other and talking about subjects they can bear to think about. Among the boys are: Musa, Kanei, Alhaji, Jumah, Saidu, Moriba, and Ishmael. Ishmael knew Alhaji, Kanei, and Musa from Mogbweno. In spite of knowing each other, they never talk about their time in that little village. Those thoughts are more painful than their feet ever could be. The pain began to subside around the fourth night of their stay there and they remain in the hut for a week. Their host continues to bring them ointment, food, and water, but like the old man they had met before, he will never give his name. They do discover that he is from the Sherba tribe and that he had heard about the war, but canít believe that people can do the things the boys relate. Later, he takes them to an inlet where the sea isnít rough and orders them to soak their feet, because salt water is good for healing, pain, and preventing tetanus.

After two weeks with their host, they are all feeling better, when an older woman comes to them and says they must flee, because the people in the village have learned they are there and have come to capture them. ďMy children, you must hurry now, and my blessings are with you,Ē she says. She is their hostís mother and wishes nothing but the best for them. Unfortunately, they are not quick enough and once again are overpowered by the men of a village. This time they are a long way from Mattru Jong. A long way gone.

The chief of this village interrogates them dressed in his best clothing. He calls them little devils and orders them stripped and thrown bound into the ocean. When they lift up Ishmael, his cassettes fall out of his pocket and once again, he finds himself explaining the music to the chief of a village. The chief orders him to dance to it to prove that he knows the music and has been part of a rap group. Ishmael complies, but he canít get into the music as he normally does, because all he can think of is his imminent death. However, he does his best and it is enough to impress the chief. He knows now that these boys are only children looking for safety. He orders them untied and their clothes returned to them. He orders them to leave his area immediately and as they walk away, the boys rub their chafed wrists and laugh to keep from crying.


It seems as if in some ways, the boys lead charmed lives and in others, they face nothing but adversity. They see the beauty of the ocean, only to be forced to walk on sand so hot it burns their feet terribly. They are cared for by a good, decent fisherman, only to be captured by villagers who fear them and want to kill them. Then, unbelievably, the cassette tapes save their lives once more. However, in the end, they desperately need the blessings the fishermanís mother offered them.

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